by Marion Nestle
Jun 16 2011

The latest in cause marketing: KFC, Pepsi, and diabetes

I collect things like this—examples of food company marketing alliances with health and nutrition organizations that by all rights should be advising their members and clients not to eat much of the company’s products.  This one promotes mega-size Pepsi to raise funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.











This particular treasure comes from a blogger, Joe Tower, who runs a business—“Selfish Giving”—that helps companies do cause marketing.  This one crosses a line, even for him:

I’ve said this before: I don’t have a problem with nonprofits and fast-serve chains doing cause marketing. What I do have a problem with is when fast serve chains like KFC encourage consumers to buy products that directly contribute to the health conditions – in this case diabetes – they are supposedly trying to prevent by partnering with the cause in the first place….What was JDRF thinking? I’m not sure, but I’m calling them today to see if I can find out!

Here are excerpts from the response from JDRF:

We appreciate your concerns and your questions about the banner promoting a JDRF fundraising activity at KFC. Please understand that the fundraiser in question is a local initiative in Utah involving a single KFC franchise owner with a personal type 1 diabetes connection.That said, JDRF values its supporters, both individual and corporate, and their efforts to raise funds to support research aimed at improving lives and curing type 1 diabetes. JDRF carefully reviews national partnership opportunities to ensure that they are appropriate prior to joining corporate campaigns to raise funds.

Regarding this particular promotion, we understand that one of the criticisms has been the association with a sugary product, which many have associated with contributing to diabetes. It’s important to note that JDRF supports research for type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that results when the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, therefore requiring a child or adult with the disease to depend on insulin treatment for the rest of their lives. It is a common misconception that type 1 diabetes is caused by obesity or eating too much junk food or sweets.

Finally, JDRF does not endorse any particular products, nor any particular diet. People with type 1 diabetes should work with their healthcare team to determine a diet that works best for them. JDRF fully supports people living with type 1 diabetes engaging in healthy eating habits and lifestyles.

–Gary Feit, National Manager, External Communications, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

As I find myself saying again and again, you cannot make this stuff up.   And how does Pepsi, now promoting itself as a wellness company, feel about this?

[Thanks to David Schliefer for sending]

Update June 17: I hear rumors attributed to a Pepsi V.P. that the promotion is “no longer running.”

  • Marion,

    Thanks for that info. The mixed messages in our society are amazing, sad, and comical.

    The other day when I was at my local supermarket, I noticed this one. It basically states: Save the environment, but pollute your body.

  • Simon Goodsense


    Do you not know the difference in pathogenesis between type 1 and type 2 diabetes…or are you merely a braying jackass?

  • Jan

    Regardless of it being Type 1 or Type 2, the product advertised is directly harmful to individuals suffering from said disease. The effect is obvious in Type 2. As an auto-immune disorder, Type 1 can be exacerbated by consuming artificial preservatives, chemicals and refined sugars which all increase inflammation in the body and further confuse the immune system. So I will counter the official statement of the JDRF to say that it’s a common misconception that Type 1 cannot be positively impacted by dietary choices, or that those currently dependent on Insulin cannot at some point become independent.

  • Amazing piece of spin on the part of KFC. Of course, they could not get away with it if not for the lack of knowledge on the part of the public. Thanks for posting and trying to change that!

  • Luther Swansea

    JDRF’s response is used here to further the point that “you can’t make this stuff up” – but to me, the facts behind this image and JDRF’s response take the “shock” value out of the whole thing.

    Visually, at first glance, I can see how people would be surprised: huge jugs of soda with proceeds going to diabetes research. Scratch the surface, though, and the scandal and sensationalism fall away quickly.

    First of all, we are talking about a *single franchise* where the fundraising effort was motivated by a personal connection to Type 1 juvenile diabetes. This is not some national campaign orchestrated by faceless suits working in huge corporations in blind pursuit of the almighty dollar. Like me, and hundreds of thousands if not millions of people worldwide, this is some guy or gal who cares about a child in their life who is suffering from diabetes and is trying to help.

    Secondly, what anyone with Type 1 diabetes eats or drinks may change their blood sugar levels and such – but it doesn’t cause [or cure] the disease. And last I researched, which was two weeks ago, I did not find any conclusive evidence of artificial ingredients in today’s diet harming people with Type 1. I agree that limiting artificial ingredients is a reasonable approach to nutrition for anyone, including people with diabetes. However, Marion or Jan, please show me the study or studies that prove your point re: artificial ingredients. Also, Jan, where did you get the idea that people with Type 1 diabetes can “at some point become independent” of insulin based on dietary choices [or anything else] – ?

    Thirdly, keep in mind JDRF’s mission is to: research Type 1 juvenile diabetes; work to finding better treatments and cures [e.g. the artificial pancreas] that help to improve affected children’s quality of life; and raise awareness of the disease socially and politically. It is not to prevent Type 2 diabetes or be a dietary watchdog.

    At a certain point, who cares if the money for diabetes research comes from Whole Foods or ConAgra? Or if Pepsi wants to give money to Type 1 research, then good! Let’s use that money and help people. JDRF could use a lot more help in helping these kids and their families. If the source[s] of support seems ironic or incongruous in some way, then I say “welcome to the 21st century”. I can think of other financial relationships, consummated for the purpose of commerce – not research – that are at least as incongruous, e.g. Dow Chemical advertising in The National Geographic. We won’t even get into political lobbying, which is where the “outrage” people are expressing here would be better targeted imo…

    While filling up a Mega Jug with soda or diet soda [which is repulsive to me personally, btw] and the proceeds going to Type 1 diabetes research may look odd to us, and makes for sensationalistic blog posts, the real story behind this image is not that JDRF has sold their souls to Pepsi Co. It’s that there is a lot of confusion and ignorance about Type 1 diabetes, that we could use more real world scientific studies on today’s diet and its role specifically in auto-immune disorders and human health in general, and that JDRF has a lot more work to do in the areas of both research and awareness.

  • hi there,

    This underlines the importance of the principle of authenticity. In working with many companies in cause marketing, I have realized most want to do the right thing and don’t set out to do something wrong. It has been a very rewarding experience to help guide companies in good responsible cause marketing that does fit with their brands.

    But kudos for pointing out problem programs. I know it’s not meant to give a black eye, but rather to help corporate marketers to think more carefully about the cause programs they build.

    Good article.

  • It took me a couple years of distance from the craziness of all the “edible product” marketing, commercials, government involvement and all that to see how scary the whole thing is. I’m not taken with conspiracy theories very often, but sometimes there really is a conspiracy. What scared me most is how desensitized to all of it I am. I am only now beginning to notice the weirdness in stuff like the KFC Soft Drink in your post. I am glad you are blogging about it too. Thanks and keep at it please.

  • Cia’s Mom

    I just want to make a couple of points (and thank Luther for being the only one who seems to truly grasp the stupidity of some of the remarks above):

    1. KFC had nothing to do with this and there is no “spin” on their part. As noted above, this is one FAMILY trying to make a difference.

    2. People are going to buy the disgusting mega-jugs whether money is donated to JDRF or not.

    3. Unless you, or a loved one, have been directly affected by type 1 diabetes then you have absolutely no cause to open your mouth (or your keyboard) and speak negatively of JDRF or the KFC that is doing the fundraiser. All money is good money, especially when the economy is struggling like it is. Non-profits are finding it harder than ever to raise money and every $1 counts.

    I want to thank JDRF, this KFC franchise, and anyone else who gives any amount of money to JDRF. With a lot more research and a lot more funding, maybe one day I won’t have to give my daughter 3 shots per day…THANK YOU!

  • Sam

    Luther – it is a big deal, and JDRF’s lawyer-esk response paints them in a poor light. Reading in between the lines JDRF is basically saying they don’t care about type II diabetes, nor that the promotion they are associated with encourages behavior that is associated with the development of type II diabetes. If one non-profit diabetes org can’t be bothered to care about the impact of their methods on another type of diabetes, why should I, as a non-diabetic, care enough to help their cause? They are being self-centered which is supposed to be the exact opposite of what a respectable, health-based, philanthropic non-profit should be.

    Imagine an organization dedicated to fighting Melanoma partnering for donations with a local smoke shop to supersize the pack size, because hey melanoma is caused by UV not smoking…who cares if their promotion encourages people to smoke more, they won’t be getting melanoma. Seriously, Mr Feit should be ashamed.

  • Suzanne

    There’s no way for us to know whether the franchise owner of the KFC in question is familiar with the controversy regarding greenwashing by corporations that produce harmful products, and how a generous gesture would be questioned by more sophisticated consumers aware of the problem.

    On a personal note, I participated in a walk to raise to funds for JDRF, and the grounds of the walk were covered by freebies from processed food companies. The mother of the T1 child whose team I was supporting was frustrated by the additional monitoring she had to do to closely supervise her child’s food intake the morning of the walk, as it would require an adjustment to his insulin levels if he ate the food in question.

  • Sam

    Just to add from the JDRF’s own site:
    “It’s important that anyone new to diabetes develop strategies for eating out and controlling portions, and that they understand how to read and comprehend food labels.” – how does encouraging the purchase of a mega jug on top of a KFC meal fit into controlled portions? Seriously.

  • Suzanne

    Sam – EXCELLENT points, especially about T1 and T2. I would think JDRF would be aware that Joe Public doesn’t perceive the distinction between the two types (let alone the variations of Diabetes that fall on a continuum between the two). Wouldn’t JDRF have some input about promotional events that fund raise for their organization, and ideally have an opportunity to provide some guidance to the franchise owner to avoid a controversy that would bring negative attention?

  • Lucy

    Jan how do you exacerbate type 1 diabetes? you can eat a diet that is poor for your blood glucose control, diets high in sugar, salt and fat are not good for people with any form of diabetes but you can not make the condition of the pancreas any worse/better. A person with type 1 diabetes will after what is called the honeymoon period stop producing insulin. This dying of the beta producing insulin cells is at present inevitable. There is not a diet known to man that will stop or improve the function of the pancreas. NO TYPE 1 DIABETIC HAS EVER BECOME INDENTDENT OF INSULIN WITHOUT A PANCREAS TRANSPLANT.

    Sorry to be so blunt, but while a person with type 1 diabetes will find certain lower carb/low GI diet improve their blood glucose control you’ll never make a type 1 diabetic independent of insulin via diet alone.

    @Luther Swansea bravo, the voice of sanity. I wish the blog posters that have so gleefully, in the name of humour and mock indignation been forced to read and digested all the points you have made. It’s a real shame opinions like yours have been drowned out.

    As interesting as the debate about what are appropriate corporate and charity ties this is really just a storm in a tea cup. It’s one man trying to raise money (not in the most appropriate way, but honestly no one is going to get diabetes because of this silly promotion) for a cause that is personal to him. This is not KFC & Komen mark II, really does this warrant a page on the huffington post or yahoo? I can see why some people might find it funny if they don’t have much knowledge about diabetes. But to write critiques based on a photo you found on the internet condemning KFC and the JDRF with out even knowing what juvenile diabetes is. Without knowing if the promotion was real, as some blogger have done. Is that really news worthy, is that sticking it to the man. Congratulations you’ve made fun of the good intentions of one man/woman and children with diabetes, now no corporation will ever behave badly again.

  • Lucy

    *edit* meant to say *I wish the blog posters that have so gleefully, in the name of humour and mock indignation reposted this story been forced to read and digested all the points you have made*

  • Luther Swansea

    Sam – diabetes type 1 and type 2 are so different that asking JDRF to increase their scope to cover both types for children and adults would be absurd. They have their focus, there are other organizations that focus on adults and type 2. Why is that so strange to you? Does JDRF owe the world a communications strategy for all forms and stages of diabetes? Don’t think so.

    Also, this is again *one KFC* in Utah. People from all kinds of health backgrounds, perhaps unfortunately, will walk into that KFC and buy a meal and possibly a Mega Jug. For a period of time those people will see the infamous sign and be aware that their purchase will help JDRF. People are making mountains out of molehills here. Perception is important. Hype and spin are a reality. Ironically, the people outraged by this are creating hype and spin of their own – and it is based on ignorance and it has become misguided imo.

    Again this is not a national campaign, orchestrated by huge corporations – it’s some guy or gal helping a diabetic child or children that they care about. If you want to focus on the surface, the PR aspect, and how this “looks bad” to people who are genuinely ignorant of type 1 vs. type 2, and you are unwilling to see the deeper issue here [helping children with type 1 diabetes through research] — then see Cia’s Mom’s post. Try making a difference by actually doing something to help. What you have written here does not help at all. Have a nice day.

  • Luther Swansea

    P.S. Sam – where did I say this is not a big deal? This is very much a big deal to me with my personal connection to juvenile type 1 diabetes. It’s a big deal because people are on a witch hunt and seem willing to burn JDRF at the stake without actually knowing anything about the disease or the orgnaization. Excuse me, but who else is trying to help these kids on a large scale??? And… It’s a big deal because this is another example of how our ADD type attention span to an issue + knee jerk reaction / snap judgment + teh interweb = counter-productive churn.

  • Kathy

    Thank you, Marion, for initiating this discourse. This is exactly why I read excellent blogs like yours!

  • Anthro

    Thank you Luther! A voice of reason in a sea of blather. Thanks Cia’s Mom as well. As for Jan, I hope no one with diabetes takes your post seriously.

    I will defend Marion as well. She posted this as an example of something that is a problem, at least from a public health perspective–which is Marion’s concern.

    But I have to agree with Luther that this particular promotion is much ado about very little. The JDRF’s reply was reasonable for the most part. It is a myth that people who have Type I diabetes cannot have ANY sugar (although I am certainly not saying a huge soda is okay–for anyone). The fact is that soda is very much a part of our culture and most kids are going to drink the stuff. I think the best we can hope for is to get back to reasonable portion sizes. Personally, I haven’t had a soda for nearly 40 years, but that’s just me–not my kids or grandkids. I believe that the size of soda I had as a child was an 8 oz. cup–don’t think that even exists anymore.

    Also, I cannot for the life of me see why the “average” person cannot make the distinction between Type I and Type II diabetes. Almost any foundation or government-sponsored website will tell you all about it in very simple language. People should get off facebook and bother to read a bit. It might have been better, however, if Type II had been given a different name, since I don’t expect that anyone is going to be admonished much by my scolding.

  • Sam

    Luther – You’re putting words in my mouth, no where did I ask JDRF to support T2 diabetes research. I am simply asking JDRF to think about the type of promotions they align themselves with and the impact/message. If it is, as Anthro claims, easy for the “average” person to differentiate between T1 and T2 diabetes, then it should be easy for JDRF, a health focused organization, to THINK about their fund raising message, especailly when there are soooo many other opportunities to raise money.

    What still amazes me is the hijacking KFC/store owner did on JDRF. Even though JDRF says the owner is personally affected by T1 diabetes, the promotion is clearly centered on making money for the owner. The owner is using the donation (which can only be made with a purchase of an extra $2.99 mega jug – which is probably one of, if not the, highest margin item for the owner) to upsell the customer. Who wouldn’t want to help kids with T1 diabetes? Only bad people wouldn’t, guess you better buy the extra soda you don’t need in your diet. The promotion could have been a dollar gets donated with any purchase, or there could have been a swipe at the register to donate a dollar at timeof purchase, or through the purchase of non-food items like the “paper sneakers” JDRF did with KFC in Dallas. But no, it is a donation ONLY associated with an EXTRA purchase of an amount of soda that is so high in calories (750 almost half of daily recommended intake) that it would never fit in any concept of balanced diet that JDRC claims on it’s own website is important for T1 diabetes.

    Again imagine if JDRF partnered with Philip Morris, buy a cigarette and PM will donate a dollar…would that be okay with you Luther and Anthro? Look PM is a good company, they help fight diabetes. And hey just one cigarette doesn’t cause cancer just like one mega jug doesn’t cause obesisty….but it sure does help encourage the behavior.

    At the end of the day this isn’t a black eye for JDRF it’s light slap in the face to think a little.

  • Kathy

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned last year’s corporate sponsorship of the KFC-Susan G. Koman Foundation. I am new to your blog, so you probably mentioned this in past posts, but does anyone Remember Pink Buckets for the Cure?

    From Medscape Medical News
    Pink “Buckets for the Cure” Collaboration Between KFC and Komen Draws Sharp Criticism
    by Roxanne Nelson
    April 29, 2010 — Sharp criticism has been leveled at the latest “pinking” campaign to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer — a collaboration between fast-food franchise Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and the cancer advocacy group Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

    What the Cluck?!
    We started Think Before You Pink to pull back the curtain on the surge in pink cause marketing. We were deeply concerned about the implications of KFC’s and Komen for the Cure’s 2010 “Buckets for the Cure” campaign.

    I will never put it past any food companies to promote their products in an attempt to increase their profits, hidden under the ruse of trying to raise money “for a cause.” They are the Big Tobacco of yesteryear, praying on the ignorance and well-meaning (albeit misguided) intentions of the public.

  • Danielle Hertel

    This is still a current ad. Recently have seen it in more than one location in Michigan.

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  • Sarah

    Old posts here but this pic is making the rounds again, so I want to throw in my two cents:

    First of all, to address those who have said that JDRF helps kids with diabetes — the term “Juvenile diabetes” has nothing to do with kids. The disease is called Juvenile Diabetes because the onset is usually during childhood or young adulthood.

    Next, people with Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes can and do get Type 2 diabetes. This is about as serious as it gets, as in GAME OVER. Type 2 diabetes is caused by developing a resistance to insulin by the over-consumption of sugars as in drinking a freakin’ half gallon of sugar water.

    It is ludicrous for any individual or entity to encourage the consumption of soda to aid in any form of diabetes research. The people at that KFC franchise may have had good intentions, but it was an ill-conceived plan.

    Don’t even get me started on how diabetes, both types, have been corporatized and turned into a cash cow.

  • A Utah thing? I think not…Coke/JDRF golf tournament

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